Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Essential Reading: Poetry

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Even for some seasoned readers of prose, picking up poetry can be like choosing a new toothpaste brand. Prose has treated us well, so why switch? It is the sort of life change that only arrives in moments of upheaval or because we have coupons. I admit that I am a novice poetry seeker: a little tentative, perhaps still caught off guard by how many different types of minty freshness there can be, but also willing to take more risks when I reach for the next book. For readers like me Spiral Bound is a slim invitation into the world of verse. Subtitled "A Short Collection by Dessa" (of spoken word, hip-hop, lyrical, and vocal fame) and filed under "poetry" at the local bookstore, it contains both poems and short essays. (Which, almost by accident, raises the question of what is the difference.) The shortest poem is "My New Purpose": "Without me,/ how would my headache/ get around?" It is tweet-like in its length and precision, but isn't it lovely to have a moment with a line on the page without the scrolling and the links and the ampersands? The essays are revelations: about Life (how Leif is pronounced in 'The Leviathan'), seasickness and landsickness, and pain and self hypnosis. Think of this and the recommendations that follow as a packet of coupons you've received in the mail: reason enough to try a new brand, a new poet, a new genre, a new collection.


Caroline M. Grant, Editor-in-Chief writes, "I am savoring Nicole Stellon O'Donnell's new collection of poetry, Steam Laundry. The collection is a novel in poems about Sarah Ellen Gibson, who was one of the first women to arrive in Alaska during the 1903 gold rush. O'Donnell uses photographs, letters, and historical documents to ground her poems and voice the varying experiences of Sarah, her husband Joe, and their sons Tom and Elmer. One of my favorite pieces 'Nellie Considers Her Sons: Dark' is set as Nellie and her sons ride the steamer north to join Joe; I love this stanza's reflection on the brothers:

My eyes rest on the boys' faces,
their clear eyes, the hollow of their cheeks.
Brothers, rough copies,
one page imprinted
by the heavy writing
on the first."

Maria Scala, Senior Editor, shares, "I just finished an advanced reading copy of Cassie Premo Steele's beautiful and wise collection of poetry The Pomegranate Papers, which came out on April 13th. In it she explores the relationship between motherhood and creativity, while evoking images from natural and mythological worlds. In the book's signature piece 'The Poemgranate' she
captures what she and so many creative mothers are trying to achieve:
...
All I can do is to feed my desire
For solitude, find a way back
To myself through these words

That I harvest like fruits, plucked
From my head, cut open in bed,
And eaten, forbidden or not,

Seeds and core, peel and stem, entire.
It is with this poemgranate that I might
Make myself, mother, whole again."

Column Editor Nicole Stellon O'Donnell recommends Bite Every Sorrow by Barbara Ras. "Ras's precision and humor draw me back again and again. While the poems focus on the sorrow and longing we experience, they're shot through with joy, reminding us to pay attention. 'You Can't Have It All' begins 'But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands / gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger / on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back' and, after a litany of small but tremendous beauties, ends 'you can't have it all, / but there is this.' I return to Ras for 'this.' It makes her poetry absolutely essential for me."


Rhena Tantisunthorn received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in 2007. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and daughter and is currently working on a book about her experiences working with Karenni refugees on the Thai-Burma border. You can find her blog here: Rhena Tan.


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